HOPE springs nocturnal in a collaboration between young artists from York and around the world at According To McGee from May 19.
Under the title of Hope, the artwork will be on display in light projections in the window of the Tower Street gallery.
Originated by Viborg UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts, the project has been brought to York by Chris Bailey, clerk of York’s Guild of Media Arts, via REACH, the Cultural Education Partnership for the city.
Primary schools jumped at the chance to be involved in a creative response to the pandemic that, mirroring the Coronavirus, has travelled around the world, inspiring thousands of children from China to Mexico.
Chris enthuses: “This project is exactly what York’s UNESCO designation is all about, responding creatively to the challenges we all face, joining forces with other ‘Creative Cities’ and encouraging the next generation of creative leaders.
“I hope that, once this dreadful virus is just a memory, the relationships these young people have built with children in other countries will continue to thrive.”
Gallery co-director Greg McGee says: “Chris e-introduced me to Henrik Holmskov, from Viborg, and the project just sounded so optimistic and creative, just what we all needed at this time. The idea of opening it up to participants from all over York made perfect sense and was instantly met with enthusiasm.
“Our charity, New Visuality, had been wrapping up projects funded by York wards Heworth Without, Dringhouses and Woodthorpe, Guildhall, Rawcliffe and Clifton Without, and for the young people from these areas to now see their artwork projected in a city-centre gallery is a huge boost.”
Here comes the science bit: “The window projections will be based around carefully curated events using the newly released platform ‘SuS’, a smart solution to publishing artwork to a pool of digital screens from anywhere using mobile or desktop devices from SplashBY,” explains Greg.
SplashBY founder Pritpal Rehal chips in: “I’m more than happy to facilitate and play a small part in this global project to promote artistic creativity of Hope for all to see.”
Here comes the Maths part: “The evenings will feature projections of 350 artworks selected from all 3,000 images from cities in 33 countries around the world,” reveals Greg.
Digital artist Nick Walters is delighted to be linking up with the McGee gallery and New Visuality again for Hope after his installations for York Mediale and York Design Week.
“The location of the window is so iconic, directly opposite Clifford’s Tower,” he says. “I like the looser time-frame to this project and I’m looking forward to showing the illuminated artworks, perhaps alternating the transparency of the sheets, tweaking how long the images will flicker on screens.
“It’s a good chance for us to show passers-by what York does well, which is fuse creativity with innovative technology.”
The Hope projections will launch on Wednesday, May 19 and continue on May 20 and 21, then run on Wednesday to Friday for the next two weeks at 6pm to 9pm each night.
DAVID Finnigan and Peter Davis will launch According To McGee’s focus on contemporary artwork in 2021 with a joint show from January 8.
“We see the pending challenges of the new year as an opportunity to refocus our ambition to provide crucial contemporary painting for collectors from all over the UK,” says Greg McGee, co-owner of the Tower Street art-space in York.
“We are a gallery that champions painting and the skill set and specific cultural heft that comes with it.”
Greg and co-owner Ails McGee “never got over our mid-Nineties education as art students”. “We were told by professors that painting as a medium was dead,” he recalls.
“It was ‘bourgeois’, ‘patriarchal’, ‘colonial’ and ‘irrelevant’, when exhibited alongside its shinier competitors: performance art, installation art, light projections and conceptual art.
“Twenty-five years later, and here we are, directing a commercial, independent art gallery. We see everyday close-up just how crucial painting is to culture and the creative industries. It’s painting that people want, and it’s never going to go out of fashion.”
Outlining the McGees’ outlook for 2021, Ails says: “We thought if we we’re going to get the foot in the door of 2021, we’d better come accompanied with painters who reflect the confidence of us going forward to thrive as a gallery in the ‘new normal’. So, we’re honoured to bring to York the painters David Finnigan and Peter Davis.”
Greg rejoins: “Both push paint around with the panache of Nureyev. This is ground-breaking work by any standard. What’s interesting is they both prioritise a realistic element. It’s not photorealism, as such, but a vision and a precise draughtsmanship that most artists would kill for.
“Contemporary painting is one of the few genres that have been democratised to the point of silliness. A perfectly executed painting is not a relic of the patriarchy. Spilling half a pint of acrylic from hip height on a canvas is not liberating because it deconstructs Western hegemony.
“At best, it’s creative, but it’s not art. Painting demands a zeal and a focused work ethic just as much as ballet or singing opera does. David and Peter and their respective collections showcase that better than any other painter we know and are perfect for our Contemporary Painting In 2021 series.”
The McGees are intrigued by Finnigan’s work not fitting into any pigeonhole. “It’s not just photorealism, where the paint simply does the job of a camera, but a whole lot slower,” says Ails.
“He observes his subject and then begins a process we as a gallery have seen only David execute. He breaks what he sees down into components, exaggerating certain aspects while retaining the realism of others. It’s a unique, idiosyncratic dedication to harnessing his own vision.”
David explains: “Although, in recent years, my paintings have been rooted in the traditions of photorealism painting, I’m now beginning to subvert the idea of a painted version of a photograph by ‘breaking up’ or modulating the picture plane to add new dimensions via careful and intuitive use of colour and graphical composition.
“I feel my work now has more of an affinity with the ‘Precisionists’ rather than the ‘Photorealists’.”
Finnigan, by the way, is working on a new smaller painting and developing ideas for the next few in his new series. “These will share the same visual concept that the work I’ve brought to According To McGee has,” he says. “Namely, subverting the surface detail of ‘the reality’ and forcing the issue of colour foremost, by adding a new layer of composition.”
Finnigan’s paintings sit well alongside the latest collection from Manchester artist Peter Davis, who is a member of the Contemporary British Portrait Painters and an elected council member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.
“This is truly a solid duo exhibition,” says Greg. “Peter is recognised by the industry and serious collectors as one of the most important social realist painters in the UK.
“Normally, he focuses on figures dimly lit by their own absorption in their personal technology, but this series is different: Peter has produced a collection, Living History and Technology in York, especially for According To McGee.”
The McGees see Davis’s new work as a natural dovetail with the art of David Finnigan, as well as with their gallery’s mission statement. “We’re a contemporary art gallery in a city known for its history,” says Ails.
“There are loads of edgy, innovative aspects to York that sometimes don’t get noticed as much as they should. As awesome as heritage is, York is also shot through with what we call ‘Living History’. This is an opportunity for collectors to add art that reflects just that to their collection.”
Peter says of his new York collection: “Living History and Technology in York is part of a new urban realist series capturing contemporary stories of people in everyday life, technology in hand.
“These three paintings feature the old Rowntree’s factory on Haxby Road and are set in different parts of the building. I really liked the idea of capturing this York landmark before it’s redeveloped.”
As the changeover of calendars fast approaches, Greg looks back on a year in the unrelenting grip of the Coronavirus pandemic. “Yet 2020 still turned into the utopia I initially envisaged,” he says.
“In the shadow of the pandemic, I assumed fractures and tribalism would coagulate: it’s hard to argue about politics in the pub when there’s a plague outside stalking the streets.
“But what happened instead was the noisiest, angriest year I have ever seen, which, conversely led to huge sales of impressionistic seascapes. The bitter beauty of dark seas, offset by just enough light on the horizon, became a refuge of many of our clients.
“So much so that Ails, my wife and business partner, felt encouraged to return to the studio to pick up the paintbrush. Her collection sold out and we look forward to exhibiting the next collection in 2021.”
Ails is confident 2021 will provide a clearer pathway for creative talents on every level. “After a year where the dominant theme has been uncertainty, creative people are rolling up their sleeves and identifying where they want to be at a given point. We are no different,” she says.
“For a while, as a gallery, we spent maybe a little too much time trying to reinvent ourselves with electronic art, video art, sound art and concepts. Believe me, that stuff is as boring to curate as it is to view.
“We’re a gallery that celebrates contemporary painting, and it’s for that reason that we’re preparing for our 17th anniversary as our most successful year yet. That’s a bold claim, but we have the art of David Finnigan and Peter Davis to launch. This is about as good as it gets.”
Contemporary Painting in 2021: David Finnigan and Peter Davis runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from January 8 to February 14 2021. “We’ll be open, Covid-compliant, with no gatherings,” says Greg McGee, in the light of York’s Tier 3 status from December 31.
ACCORDING To McGee, in York, reopens on Saturday with the salty rush of David Baumforth’s new Winter seascapes.
A regular breath of seaside air at the Tower Street gallery, Baumforth’s work depicts the places he loves: the North, its coastline and hinterland.
After handing over the front gallery to York cityscape artist Richard Barnes for Lockdown: The Sequel’s innovative Window Shopping Exhibition, this forthcoming weekend is a tribute to fellow gallery favourite Baumforth, the York-born son of a turner and fitter at British Rail and a packer at Terry’s chocolate factory.
In a long career where he has won the Not The Turner Art Prize, exhibited at London’s Royal Watercolour Society Opens and Royal Academy Summer Shows and received the acclaim of TV art critic Sister Wendy, Baumforth once more embraces his Yorkshire coast and moorland muse for Winter in the latest burst of creativity from his Snainton studio near Scarborough.
Gallery co-director Ails McGee is delighted to see Baumforth retain his title as the “Turner of the North”. “This collection is indicative of a painter who, far from resting on his laurels, continues to blossom. The marks are fierce, even as he captures the last rays of light on winter trees,” she says.
“Most graduates we work with have admitted that they would give their left arm to paint like David Baumforth, which is vindication enough. The pre-exhibition sales that are coming in are also a welcome seal of approval.”
David, now 78, says: “It feels right to be exhibiting in a solo show in York at this stage of my career. My style may have slightly changed, but I’m not interested in gimmicks. The Yorkshire moors and its coastline are a constant source of inspiration for me. I’m happy with my work, so I feel no need for change.
“I’d rather exhibit them in According To McGee than anywhere else as they have a good feeling for good paintings and have done so for some time.”
Ails points to the modern energy of Baumforth’s Winter depictions. “There’s something crucial, like he has something to prove,” she says. “He has always had a reputation of being irascible, but all that has mellowed out now, and whatever bristling, visionary impatience he had is now manifest in his paintings. It is painting that has brought him this far and we are at a fascinating juncture in his career.”
Ails is alluding to 2021’s landmark summer event: David Baumforth: The Final Exhibition. “David is working towards a collection that is in essence a victory lap for a painter who has redefined what it is to depict York and Yorkshire,” she reveals.
“This Winter collection is a forerunner of that, and what we have here available for purchase reveals some very interesting directions David is going in. He has complete control over his vision and style and his work is simply becoming more desirable because of that.”
Co-director Greg McGee is fully recharged for Saturday’s bracing reopening. “2020 has been a turbulent year. Though we have been forced to close our doors in the two lockdowns, our clients have remained loyal and have either contacted us after peeking through our front window or have made purchases through our site.
“That aspect has been fine but, ultimately, we are a contemporary gallery and you can’t beat the energy of opening the door and allowing browsers to enjoy the new collections from excellent artists. That’s why Saturday is so important to us.”
David Baumforth: Winter runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from Saturday, 12 noon to 5pm, daily until Christmas. The gallery also is open by appointment on 01904 671709.
ACCORDING To McGee is still putting art in the shop window despite the here-we-go-again impact of Lockdown 2.
“Culture is in quarantine, but collecting great art continues,” says Greg McGee, co-director of the distinctive yellow-fronted gallery in Tower Street, York.
”And if the doors have to close then we’ll use our window to sell our paintings. It’s opposite Clifford’s Tower – we get a lot of footfall – and it’s huge.”
Lockdown: The Sequel has prompted Greg and co-director Ails McGee to launch the Window Shopping series of exhibitions, kicking off with According To McGee’s biggest-selling artist, Richard Barnes, former head of art at Bootham School.
“Famed for his man-sized portraits of York, Richard’s latest collection, York And God’s Own County, has some of the largest cityscapes and landmarks he has ever produced,” says a delighted Greg.
Window Shopping’s modus operandi addresses the necessity of locked-down galleries displaying their wares explicitly in the window space and making as much use of the wall space viewable from that vantage point as possible.
“I don’t think it’s a skill taught in curatorial lessons at art college, but these are strange times. ” says co-director Ails. “I organised with Richard a socially distanced drop-off of 15 new paintings, created at his garden studio.
“I was blown away by the quality of the new collection. He has always had a muscular, mischievous approach to composition and colour schemes, but these are stand-out works that show him at the top of his game.
“I have filled the front gallery with his work, from floor to ceiling, and we have already made pre-exhibition sales. Not very minimal or a traditional art gallery approach, but the energy is unmistakable. Window shopping works.”
Richard, who lives in Huntington Road, had done some “window showmanship” of his own in the lead-up to this show. “The paintings I love most hit me in the gut and hit me in my soul,” he says.
“During [the first] lockdown, I exhibited the paintings I was making on the back of my studio, so people using the river path opposite could see them. Somehow the job of making paintings that might hit someone somewhere, or even just give them a bit of pleasure, seemed very worthwhile.
“The new set of paintings at According To McGee are those that people commented on most during those tense lockdown months.”
Richard also became involved in a project to create a huge painting for the new mental health hospital for York being built a little further along the Foss river path [the now opened Foss Bank Hospital in Haxby Road].
“The smaller landscapes in the new exhibition are experiments with light and space that I used to inspire the largest landscape I have ever painted and am still working on,” he says.
Barnes’s work has been a building block of According To McGee ever since the gallery launched 16 years ago. “It is especially pertinent this winter,” says Greg. “I’m honoured to act as the art advisor for the internationally well-regarded poetry zine, Dream Catcher, whose December issue features the art of Richard Barnes exclusively, so this show chimes with that nicely.”
Casting an eye over the new works, Ails says: “Richard has always painted with the risk-taking energy of an excellent painter in his 20s, but there’s a stronger, fiercer element to this collection.
“Maybe he has rediscovered a latent aggression, or mischief, or maybe it’s Lockdown. Either way, these paintings depict York as a modern city and the North York Moors as a location for contemporary landscapes better than any collection on the market. Come look through our gallery window and see for yourself.”
It is no secret that Richard, who has painted ceaselessly since the 1980s, will be bidding farewell York in the months ahead, selling both his studio and house. “Although I am leaving York and Yorkshire, I really hope I will continue my relationship with painting York and According To McGee,” he says.
“I want to thank Greg and Ails for supporting me and many other northern artists. What I have loved most about working with them is their attitude of ‘Why not?’.”
Watch out for news of his York Farewell Show at According To McGee in 2021. In the meantime, whether out exercising or shopping, take a breather in Tower Street to peruse Window Shopping: Richard Barnes, York and God’s Own County; expansive, bold and inviting eye contact behind glass until December 1.
MAIJA Blåfield’s aptly named The Fantastic has won the Best of Fest at the 2020 tenth anniversary online edition of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival.
More than 300 films competed for the awards in the BAFTA Recognised festival in York, ranging from poignant documentaries that tap into the climate crisis to touching dramas about loss and forgiveness.
At Sunday evening’s close of the six-day festival, the live-streamed awards ceremony was hosted by regular master of ceremonies Greg McGee, following the judging by experts from Film4, BFI Network, ICA London and Nowness.
Winning awards at ASFF can bolster the success of the stand-out films, as shown by past winners going to receive Oscars, such as Chris Overton’s sweet-natured The Silent Child and Benjamin Cleary’s Stutterer.
Keep an eye out for The Fantastic after Maija Blåfield’s film garnered both the Best of Fest and Best Documentary awards. In this short, eight former North Koreans discuss illegal foreign movies they watched in their homeland. How did they imagine the reality based on fictional films? The Fantastic is not about North Korea, Blåfield says.
Further awards went to:
Hijack Visionary Filmmaker Award
Thinking About The Weather, directed by Gardar Thor Thorkelsson
DESPERATE to resolve his anxieties about the looming climate apocalypse, the filmmaker embarks on an odyssey around Britain, speaking to coastal inhabitants resting on a rising coastline, as well as Extinction Rebellion protestors.
Safe Water, directed by Mario Dahl
A GIRLl walks right to the edge of the board, breathing deeply, ready to make the biggest jump of her life, but what awaits her down there? Safe water is more important than ever.
The Passerby, directed by Pieter Coudyzer
ON a summer’s day, the paths of two boys cross unexpectedly. The Passerby considers what happens when two lives become intertwined and the possibilities emerge of a new journey together.
Best Artists’ Film
Factory Talk, directed by Lucie Rachel and Chrissie Hyde
FACTORY Talk is an intergenerational conversation about identity, sexuality and masculinity. Through the clanging of metal, they make small talk, but the dialogue turns away from mere nostalgia.
Maradona’s Legs, directed by Firas Khoury
DURING the 1990 World Cup, two Palestinian boys are looking for Maradona’s Legs: the last missing sticker they need to complete their World Cup album and win a free Atari.
The Conversation, directed by Lanre Malaolu
THROUGH a dynamic fusion of movement and dialogue, The Conversation explores the challenges black people experience when communicating their racial experience to white partners.
The Present, directed by Farah Nabulsi
ON his wedding anniversary, Yusef and his daughter Yasmine set out to the West Bank to buy a gift. Between the soldiers, roads and checkpoints, how easy is it really to go shopping?
Softer, directed by Ayanna Dozier
DOZIER examines the demands that black women’s bodies be made “softer” – be that in their voice, manners, or, critically, their hair. This experimental short plays on grooming rituals.
Baba, directed by Sarah Blok and Lisa Konno
A COMBINATION of design and documentary, blending elements of truth, fiction and constructed narrative. Baba provides a surreal but nonetheless light-hearted portrait of a Turkish immigrant.
Best Music Video
Adventure, directed by Zak Marx
ADVENTURE explores the world of competitive moto-racing in finely textured, surreal miniature. It follows the #2 rider as he ruminates in the shadows of world champion Jammin’ Jackie Hudson.
Night Bus, directed by Jessica Ashworth and Henrietta Ashworth
DRIVING through the nocturnal streets of London on the eve of her 30th birthday, a night-bus driver discovers a supernatural entity who has boarded her vehicle and threatens to stay.
Best 360 Film
VR Free, directed by Milad Tangshir
VR Free explores the nature of incarceration while capturing the intimate reactions of inmates as they encounter virtual reality and immersive videos of life outside of prison.
Best Feature – Documentary
Neighbors, directed by Tomislav Zaja
AN observational documentary about people who experience mental illness but are leaving their institution after decades spent in isolation. Zaja’s film follows the individuals as they venture out into the big unknown.
Best Feature – Narrative
How To Stop A Recurring Dream, directed by Edward Morris
FACED with a split custody break up, a family’s older daughter kidnaps her hostile sister in order to embark on a journey and reconnect before they are forced to part. Shot in and around locations pertinent to the director’s childhood.
York Youth Award
Talia, directed by Cara Bamford
TALIA loves nature. She’s always looking for new ways to slip out of the house, exploring the world beyond her front garden. But after being caught, her father forbids her to leave without permission.
One award is yet to decided: Festival Pass Holders can vote for the People’s Choice Award until November 30. To do so, they must choose their favourite film by clicking the “Vote Now” button within each ASFF programme.
In her closing speech on Sunday, ASFF director Cherie Federico said: “I am so pleased with the films this year: they are talking about topics that are so important to me, as a person, a mother, a friend…a festival director.
“Equality. It’s just one word but, for me, it is the most important word in all languages. It means that the world has equilibrium and that we are joined rather than divided.
“There is only one future and one way out of this pandemic and that is it: we just break down all barriers and remember we are one. This is our time, right now on Planet Earth. It’s incredibly powerful when you digest it.”
American Cherie, a New Yorker who crossed the Big Pond to study at York St John University and never left York, turned her thoughts to the fractious US election. “I didn’t realise how much Trump’s presidency affected me until Biden won. I cried. It was an overwhelming sense of relief that we could turn a corner, we could end a fascist regime masquerading as a democracy.
“We could overcome all the injustices, racism and prejudice. I am be proud of who I am and where I come from again.”
Cherie continued: “I cannot even begin to explain how this makes me feel. We were heading somewhere that mirrored 1930s’ Europe and I found it terrifying. It would keep me awake at night.
“I am so very grateful that the hate will now end. I know it’s just the beginning because you can’t undo some of that which has been done, but we can try and that gives me hope.”
Returning to matters ASFF, Cherie had wanted to host a street party in York to mark the tenth anniversary. “Instead, it’s me in my office by myself, but I know that you are there and have been enjoying our masterclasses, film programmes and everything that is on offer,” she said after Covid-19 enforced the online edition. All of those session are On Demand until the end of the month.”
Looking ahead to ASFF 11, Cherie signed off: “Until 2021, when we can hug, kiss, dance and laugh in the streets! We must all come together in person and celebrate equality, creativity and diversity.”
Greg McGee, ever lyrical co-owner of According To McGee, hosted the live-streamed awards ceremony from his Tower Street gallery.
Introducing the event, he said: “This year, the pandemic has subordinated everything in its path. Most of the consequences have been dreadful. Some have been tentatively positive and conversely more human.
“Nowhere else has that been more explicit than cinema. It’s your creativity and new narratives that are making life in Lockdown bearable. In terms of quality, this has been the best ASFF yet, and never has it been more crucial or vital.”
Greg continued: “The tenth-year anniversary is not the Great Gatsby party we would have liked, but the films themselves vindicate what has been a decade of evolving, striving quality. “One of the most sensitive litmus tests of any genre is how well it exports. There are approximately 50 countries represented in this year’s ASFF, such as USA, Canada, Australia, Israel, Lebanon, France, Spain, Denmark, China.
“Every one of the films have connected and have lost none of their power through the intimacy of being watched at home. This year’s festival has really shown us the power of modern film, and how it can sensitise us, change us, enhance us, or quicken the beat of your heart, and I have to say nowhere is that more elegantly distilled than in Aesthetica Short Film Festival. Here’s to the next 10 years.”
Addressing the online audience of film-makers and film industry personnel, Greg concluded: “If anyone is going to successfully bequeath a multi-faceted celebration of culture, cinema and, ultimately, optimism, it’s ASFF, and it’s you, of course, with your hard work and your vision that provides the building blocks upon which this global event can continue to thrive.
“Here’s to ASFF21. The 11th one will be the biggest one. Slainte! Salute! And ba-da-bing.”
YORK artist Carol Douglas is the latest addition to According To McGee’s year-long celebration of contemporary painting to mark the Tower Street gallery’s 16th birthday in York.
“Actually, we were supposed to be holding events and happenings with performance artists, lasers, illuminations and installations, but Covid came and kicked that into the long grass,” says gallery co-director Greg McGee.
“And we’re glad it did, in a sense. It forced us to re-address ourselves as a gallery and distil what we do best into something unique, which is exhibit painting as though it was the edgiest, most crucial artform on the scene – which it is, by the way.”
Greg’s garrulousness has been vindicated by an autumn spike in sales of paintings by artists such as wife and co-director Ails McGee and Newcastle’s Beth Ross.
“The time for making contemporary painting the gallery’s priority seems to be now, and it is with this in mind that we approached Carol Douglas,” says Ails.
“We love Carol’s art, which dovetails very neatly with the rest of the current exhibition: in essence an evolving version of the summer show, with painting leading the way.
“What Carol’s art has that sets it apart, however, is a steely dedication to noticing the domestic and elevating it into the sublime. So, we have a bowl of fruit composed as it if it were weightless, or a chair rendered as if lit from within with flat, languid light, like a flag. All the time there is experimentation and mischief, made obvious by sudden placements of colour and playful lines.”
Carol Douglas: Hygge and Expressionism, an exclusive collection of paintings for According To McGee, launches today (Saturday, October 17) and marks a first for the McGees.
“It is the first time that we will be simultaneously inaugurating an exhibition both physically and online via the gallery’s social media,” says Greg. “The nature of the opening matters less than the nature of the paintings, though.
“People have been obliged to stay at home and contemplate their homes. Interior-design decisions have been increasingly important for Brits for the past 20 years, and I should know: I was a judge on the BBC’s Best House In Town.
“The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ is attractive and simple. It means maximum cosiness with minimalist clutter. It’s a nice way to live. Carol’s art seems to compound that, with its wet pebble palette and gentle compositions.”
Greg adds: “It’s especially powerful because it’s so idiosyncratic. You can walk in a room and even if you don’t know the artist, you see the painting and go, ‘ah yes, there’s that painter whose Still Lifes are so crisp and exact’.
“They have that crucial human warmth that, even via minimal expressionism, good art reminds us that things aren’t so bad. There’s a glow in life that even 2020 can’t extinguish.”
Summing up her latest paintings, Carol says: “I hope that people who see my work find it both visually exciting and somewhat amusing. The domestic has always been my focus and speaks of my personality and history.”
Hygge and Expressionism will run at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from today until October 26. The gallery is open every Saturday or by appointment on weekdays via accordingtomcgee.com/pages/contact or on 01904 671709 or 07973 653702. Alternatively, view online at: accordingtomcgee.com/collections/carol-douglas
Did you know?
Carol Douglas won the Adult & Access Award for Art & Design Lifelong Student of the Year in 2018.
RETURN of the Mc could not have gone better for Ails McGee, whose “comeback” exhibition at According To McGee sold out at yesterday’s launch in York.
Gallery co-director Ails unveiled Return Of The Painter: The Sea, The Sky, The City from midday to 4pm as the ebullient Tower Street art space welcomed browsers for the first time since the Covid-enforced shutdown on March 23.
“Thanks to everyone who came today,” Ails and fellow director Greg McGee tweeted afterwards. “The paintings of @AilsMcGee connected with collectors and are now sold out. She is taking commissions and is preparing for the next group exhibition. We open next Saturday. Come see us!”
Ahead of the launch, Ails said: “This is our 16th year anniversary, and we had innovative plans with big innovative events to celebrate. Performances, installations, digitally illuminated projections: it was an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, but all of that was kicked into the long grass in March. Since then, I’ve gone back to the drawing board, so to speak.”
So much so, Ails has picked up her paint brushes again, in part inspired to do so by “parsimonious proposals from politicians on essential exercise”.
“I remember thinking while I was alone in the middle of Rowntree Park at midday, there were certain people who would have reported me to the police,” she says. “It was a hard time to go outside and watch the season change. I don’t have much memory of seeing the cherry blossom this year as it was a complicated thing just to go outside and enjoy nature. So, I thought to myself, if I can’t experience the real thing, why not paint it?”
Before establishing the According To McGee gallery with her husband and business partner Greg McGee in 2004, Ails was a successful painter, exhibiting in her native Kelso in the Scottish Borders and around Yorkshire.
Her painterly arc flattened with the arrival of children – “three under three years old at one point,” she says – and her forays into charity work and The Artillery art enterprise. Now, however, the arid aspects of Covid have helped Ails focus on how important painting is to her.
“It’s everything. It forces you to see more clearly and, though it can be frustrating trying to harness what you see – all those shades, curves and colours – it’s the mixture of poetry, prophecy and religion that is so empowering and addictive,” she says.
Painting in lockdown has been “very liberating” as Ails built on her experiences of nature in the Borders, this time basing her compositions on the visual power and bitter beauty of the North East coast.
“It’s funny, seascapes come with the unfair caveat that they’re twee and calming, but it’s the opposite of that which intoxicates me and which I hope I am beginning to harness in my paintings,” she says. “The sea can be savage and changeful, on the point of bursting into full bloom, but in a painting it’s rarely twee.”
Bringing her new seascape collection to the commercial market after her hiatus does not unnerve Ails, “It’s the perfect time,” she argues. “I’m in good company: Freya Horsely and David Baumforth are internationally well-regarded masters of their craft in this field and, to be honest, I’ve already made some pre-exhibition sales.
“So, I’m in a very fortunate position. I’m producing paintings, I get to hang them in my gallery, and I’m selling them to collectors who enjoy the visuals of a sea in constant change.”
The difficulties of running a gallery under the shadow of Covid are surmountable, reckons Ails. “We’re launching with a day-long happening,” she said before yesterday’s event. “The gallery won’t be too busy at any given point, we have the attendant sanitisers, and we’re happy to welcome anyone who wants to come: old friends, artists, clients, collectors, new collectors,” she says. “Quarantine has cut culture short for too long. We can’t wait to get back in the groove.”